USA-based phone solutions for non-residents?
May 11, 2012 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Non-American who occasionally travels to America wants a Southern California phone number (Los Angeles area) that has data and that my friends can text to. My phone works on all USA carriers. What's the cheapest permanent solution? A web-based (or other non-cell) solution is also welcome as long as people can text to the number.

I travel to California multiple times a year. Each visit, I get a new phone number by buying a new sim for my phone. This has proved a pain in the ass and I'd like to get one more permanent.

The reason I've cancelled it in the past is that I'm usually only there for two weeks at q time and there are three or four months between visits (the cards expire after 90 days of non-use).

I once met a Torontonian who had a Boston-based phone number because it was the cheapest plan he could find and included unlimited long distance for North America so it made no diff to him.

I do have a 310 Google number, but people can't text to it so it's essentially useless.

posted by You Should See the Other Guy to Technology (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure people can't text to your Google Voice number?
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 9:10 AM on May 11, 2012

I do have a 310 Google number, but people can't text to it so it's essentially useless.

This shouldn't be the case. It doesn't support MMS, or international texting, but you can send and receive regular text messages from the U.S. and Canada with a Google Voice number, including by email if you prefer.
posted by Partial Law at 9:11 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmm.. no, it's not a Google Voice number. I can't remember what the service is called. (Obviously, I don't use it much--though I paid an annual fee for it and it was definitely through Google.)

Google Voice is only available in the USA. See here.

Unless you're suggesting that the next time I'm in the USA, I sign up and then when I'm back in Canada it will work... ?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:23 AM on May 11, 2012

Oops. My apologies. It was not a Google Service. It was a Skype service. I bought a Skype phone number for California and it does not have texting.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:24 AM on May 11, 2012

I was in India for 10 months, and I used my Google Voice number to text friends in the US all the time. I really think it's the best solution. The service works everywhere, but you can only sign up in the US.

Basically you pick a state/city and they give you a phone number; after that you can do the following:

* send and receive texts to US/Canada from their website or email
* route all calls and texts to another phone number (this is likely what you want)
* use the Google Voice app to send/receive texts on a smartphone (this uses the data connection so you need data BUT you won't need any texting plans :)
* make and receive phone calls from the Gmail website (on your computer, much like skype)

The whole thing is really easy. After you setup your account, when you arrive back in the US do exactly what you are doing and get a new SIM and phone number. Then you go to Google's site and enter your new phone number and then that's it! All your texts and phone calls will be routed to your new SIM :)

From then on, all calls to your Google Voice number will ring on your SIM. If someone sends a text to your Google Voice number, you will get that text on your phone, and if you reply to that text Google Voice will make sure that your friend gets the reply from your Google Voice number. :) It works great.

The main thing is a US Google account :P you need to make a Gmail/Google account that where you say "im in the US" - these days Google wants a phone number to verify new accounts too.

So what I would suggest is the following:
* come back to Cali :)
* get prepaid SIM number
* go to, make new account (remember to say "United States" if/when it asks where you are
* use prepaid SIM number when Google asks for a phone number
* Finish account and get into Gmail
* go to
* complete the setup - it will ask you what phone number you want, what your name is, etc
* Setup might ask what your real phone number, or ask you to confirm the SIM number from when you created the Google account. Enter that SIM number or confirm it respectively
* Setup may also ask how you want to handle caller ID - you can have Google send your prepaid SIM the correct caller's ID each time it forwards a phone call or always use your Google Voice number as the caller ID you see on your phone. Personal preference, and you can change this later so don't worry about it right now :)
* Setup may ask a few other things but they are unimportant. :P
* Setup complete? Yay you have a new Google phone number :) You're almost done!
* now that setup is complete you should be looking at the Google Voice page. Click the gear on the upper right side of the page, and click settings from the drop down list
* on the Phones tab, it should show your prepaid SIM number with a checked checkbox next to it. right below that will be a checkbox that says "Receive text messages on this phone" - make sure this is checked :)
* and that's it!!! your done :)

Every time you come back to the US and get a new prepaid number, just go to Google Voice and add that number - Google will route all your calls to the new number :) To do that go back to, press the gear and then settings, and on the phone tab click "Add another phone"

There are other things you can do with Google Voice, like voicemails, free outgoing calls from a computer and a smartphone with the right apps, receiving texts as data on smartphones so you don't need a texting plan, different voicemail greetings to different people, call screening (Announces caller and lets you listen as caller leaves a message), do not disturb periods, record phone calls by pressing "4" during a call, and transcribe voicemails and email/text the transcripts to you. But this is all extra :) right now you have a US phone number that doesn't change, that people can text to, and you can respond to from your phone or from the web. All for free :)
posted by rmathew1 at 11:08 AM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Thanks rmathew1! What a wonderfully thorough answer.

One question--no prob if you don't know the answer... once I do all of what you've said and I have the USA account, am I able to change the phone number back to my Toronto one when I'm home so I'll still get texts from people year-round? Or will that immediately make Google aware that I've jigged the system?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 11:23 AM on May 11, 2012

I am sure others will chime in, but here's my answer. You will still receive people's texts in your Google Voice account even if it's not hooked up to your phone number. for one, you see it when you log in to Google Voice on your computer. If you turn on the text-to-email feature, then you will get the texts in email. When you respond to the email, your response goes back as a text message. I did this from another country as a way to text with my boyfriend whenever I had wifi access.
posted by cabingirl at 12:38 PM on May 11, 2012

Strange, I receive international texts on my Google voice all the time...
posted by iamck at 1:40 PM on May 11, 2012

Not to derail, but... you can buy the full Google Voice in Canada now? News to me!
posted by Yowser at 4:17 PM on May 11, 2012

@You Should See the Other Guy No problem! Sharing is Caring :)

@cabingirl is exactly right, you will have website and emailed texts when you go back.

To answer your question, you might be able to enter a Toronto number when your home but yes, it would likely make Google aware of what's going on. Instead I'd suggest a smartphone if at all possible - there is a Google Voice app that will work while in Toronto, and uses background data to alert you to new texts and let you reply like normal :) The app is available for android and iOS devices.

(yes, technically Google should be able to detect the app being used outside the US, but I used it for almost a year straight overseas and they never had a problem. I think Google doesn't mind you accessing your messages abroad, but forwarding them to a outside-US number might be a issue)

Like @cabingirl, i used email and their website over wifi while in India for a long time to text friends back in the states; however I finally got a data connection on my android phone while I was in India. The Google Voice app for Android looks like the text messaging app, and integrates really well into the phone - it would notify anytime i got a text within about a minute, held the threaded text convo and let me send texts back just like back home.

I don't know if you have a smartphone, but I'd suggest one as the best way to keep texting using your Google Voice account while living your life in Toronto :) Otherwise @cabingirl is exactly right, use WiFi to get into the mobile site or turn on the text to email feature and reply when you have wifi access.
posted by rmathew1 at 5:00 PM on May 11, 2012

posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:24 PM on May 11, 2012

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